At this time a year ago, Matt Bova was walking along the course at Harbour Town, beer in hand, with his fiancèe, Danele Woods.
The two were enjoying their time together at the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing. Like most golf fans, they latched on to a pairing, in this case Luke Donald and Brandt Snedeker, and followed them through their round.
"It's such a fun tournament to watch," Bova said. "Just being able to watch the golfers. It's a social event, as well. Just the fact of how much fun people have out there and how rowdy they can get."
Bova will see a different view of those rowdy fans -- and Donald and Snedeker too, for that matter -- at this year's tournament.
Never miss a local story.
He'll be inside the ropes.
The Hilton Head Island resident and Haig Point Club assistant professional earned an exemption into the field March 25 by winning the Carolinas PGA's 18-hole qualifier at Berkeley Hall. The 26-year-old fought through cold and windy conditions to shoot a 1-over 73, just good enough to beat out 42 other entrants for the right to take part in this year's RBC Heritage.
"It's just a dream come true, really," he said.
Make no mistake, Bova has no dreams of joining the tour after completing a stunning run through this year's field. The Illinois native and Methodist University graduate, who will marry Woods on May 4, just plans to have some fun.
"This is your Super Bowl," tournament director Steve Wilmot told Bova recently. "Enjoy the moment. Don't get caught up in all the other stuff. Just play golf, do your best, learn from the experience and you'll be better for it one way or another."
Wilmot may have been one of the happiest to see Bova make the field. In a year in which the PGA Tour requested a larger field for the tournament, yet cutting sponsor exemptions in half, a local story like Bova's goes a long way in benefitting the Heritage.
The local ties are only half of what Wilmot likes to see, though. The stories that come from qualifiers like Bova are the other half.
"If I had a camera for the look on his face when he heard he was getting a courtesy car, that was worth it," Wilmot recalled, laughing. "He said, 'I'm getting a car?' He looked like a kid in a candy store. He looked like a kid at Christmas."
Bova still has those grand visions of riding around Sea Pines in that BMW. He has other dreams, too -- like making the cut. He thinks his strength in target golf could come in handy on a short course like Harbour Town Golf Links.
"I do want to understand that I'm not 100 percent at their level," he said. "So I want to go out there play and have fun, but I do still have the goal to make the cut.
"And then if I make the cut, we'll try to set some new goals and see what I can do from there. But if I can make the cut, I would be tickled."
He'll certainly have support. The Illinois native is expecting a big gallery during his rounds, as family, colleagues and Haig Point members all plan to take in the moment with him, he said.
"I've had a lot of support from friends, family, ... the membership here at Haig Point is real excited for me," he said. "So I'm actually going to have a pretty good following. I've gotten a lot of love from everyone, which is great to see."
But as usual, work comes first.
Bova had to knock out some obligations before undertaking his run at the cut. He got in some time at Haig Point the first half of the day early in the week before heading over to Harbour Town for practice rounds.
Bova is off for the next several days now, as he soaks in the rare opportunity to be a part of a PGA Tour field. And, of course, getting a little bit closer look at guys like Donald and Snedeker.
"Hopefully I can just make the cut, and maybe I'll actually get to play with them," he said.
Bova a winner
While this is Matt Bova's first PGA Tour event, he's no stranger to competitive golf. Despite an average drive of 260 yards, the 26-year-old was a two-time All-American and led Methodist University to four NCAA Division III finals, where the Monarchs won the title in 2009 while Bova finished fourth individually.